Foreword Reviews

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Wisdom, Health, and Cosmic Connection


The story of humanity is one of seeking knowledge about existence—whether through connecting to religion, the study of old stories, a love of music, or the age-old practice of looking within for wisdom. This collection of books touches on all those possibilities and beyond, from a look at the esoteric roots of 1960s music to a call for more diversity in Western Buddhism. There is advice on how to rest deeply, to seek a level beyond mindfulness, to strive to be a peacemaker, to consider how the smallest microbes affect health, to fix the brain’s common foibles, to age with grace and dignity, and to share life’s lessons with those left behind.

Beyond Mindfulness

The Direct Approach to Lasting Peace, Happiness, and Love

Book Cover
Stephen Bodian
New Harbinger Publications
Softcover $16.95 (144pp)
978-1-62625-972-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Stephen Bodian’s Beyond Mindfulness explores an out-there concept: there is another, accessible level of awareness even beyond mindfulness. In his book, Bodian shares his thoughts on how and why people should work toward it.

Bodian found that while he derived great benefits from years of meditation, at some point mindfulness left him disengaged with life, as if he were always observing events rather than participating.

Over time, he accessed awakened awareness, which he describes as authentic, spontaneously present, always accessible awareness of things as they truly are. Entering into such awareness breaks down the illusion of separateness from other beings and from the universe itself.

The book argues that people at all levels of meditation, even those who have never tried it before, can reach that realm of awareness. His recommendations may go over the heads of many; this is work that must be read and worked through consistently if one is to move toward a breakthrough.

There’s not a clear path or set of steps that can be followed to achieve such awareness, which sometimes seems paradoxically explained; different aspects and qualities of awakened awareness are explored throughout. It may be a state that is accessible to all, but it doesn’t seem to be one that is easily taught.

At the very least, Beyond Mindfulness brings awareness about such awareness, and the book’s stories, meditations, and pointers may even open a window to experiencing the state itself.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Mending the Divides

Creative Love in a Conflicted World

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Jon Huckins
Jer Swigart
InterVarsity Press
Softcover $16.00 (192pp)
978-0-8308-4484-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In their thoughtful and encouraging book on the difficult, necessary work of being peacemakers, Mending the Divides, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart call on Christians to engage with conflict at home as well as in their broader neighborhoods and nations, and even globally.

By looking at conflicts large and small, and also by exploring biblical stories and present-day realities, the book urges people to truly see each other, to immerse themselves in the daily lives of those involved in conflict, and to contend with and for those who are struggling to get what they need. The book’s ultimate lesson is in how to restore relationships, whether they are interpersonal or exist on a global scale.

Huckins and Swigart make a powerful and convincing argument that Jesus’s teachings were chiefly about peacemaking, about knowing and loving the “other,” and about recognizing that everyone belongs to one community.

Real-world stories—many borrowing from the authors’ work with the Global Immersion Project, which aims to educate Christians in conflict areas around the world on how to achieve resolution and peace—show that such peacemaking can be a reality in everyday life. They will inspire those who might not otherwise know how to get started.

The ten-ten-ten method for goal setting that is laid out in these pages provides a sturdy framework for making change that works regardless of the type of conflict being confronted and shows a way forward into the work of peace.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Daring to Rest

Reclaim Your Power with Yoga Nidra Rest Meditation

Book Cover
Karen Brody
Sounds True
Softcover $16.95 (240pp)
978-1-62203-909-8
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Karen Brody’s encouraging book Daring to Rest shares how a deep form of meditation called yoga nidra can help women—who suffer twice the number of sleep and wakefulness disorders as men—reclaim true restfulness.

The solution to fatigue, Brody argues, isn’t simply to get more sleep. Rather, people need to truly rest—in body, mind, and spirit. The forty-day program presented in the book, complete with links to recordings of guided meditations for practice, seeks to give that comfort to women.

Yoga nidra is not literally sleeping, but rather a mindful settling down into deeper levels of the self: the physical, energy, mental, wisdom, and bliss bodies. Meditation guides movement through these “bodies,” propelling one toward their authentic, rested, and powerful true self.

Brody’s guide to this form of meditation, sometimes called a “yoga nap,” reads quickly. It is engaging and insightful, and it makes the experience of recuperating from a lack of rest sound easy. Daring to Rest will give women hope that they can heal even in the midst of their busy lives, and ultimately feel more energetic.

This bighearted book aims not just to give women a path to feeling more restful, but also to encourage them to be more awake and alive in their daily processes—to seek their hearts’ desires, and to awaken to their life purposes. Or, as she puts it, this is a work that will teach its audience “to ‘sleep’ in order to truly wake up.”

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Awakening Together

The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community

Book Cover
Larry Yang
Jan Willis, contributor
Sylvia Boorstein, contributor
Wisdom Publications
Softcover $17.95 (289pp)
978-1-61429-351-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Larry Yang is an ordained Buddhist monk and a passionate advocate for diversity in dharma communities. His Awakening Together is part spiritual memoir and part stirring call to action directed at the Western Buddhist community, asking it to consciously become more inclusive of people of color, LBGTIQ persons, and differently abled individuals.

Buddhism has Asian roots, but its practice in the United States and Europe often features a lack of diversity among practitioners and teachers. Yang argues for safe spaces that take into account the particular suffering and life experiences of marginalized groups, and his work makes so much sense that it becomes hard to believe that there is any opposition to such perspectives.

Yang sees classes that are offered to particular groups as a doorway into practice, not a permanent wall that separates communities from each other. His experiences as a teacher and leader at the East Bay Meditation Center show that diversity in practice can be a reality.

Yang affirms the collective journey and transformation of the Buddhist community as a whole and calls for diverse groups to “break together” instead of breaking apart when conflicts arise.

The compassionate, thoughtful, and inclusive teachings in Awakening Together provide guidance for communities seeking to be more diverse, as well as for individuals seeking diverse spaces in which to practice.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

The Forever Letter

Writing What We Believe For Those We Love

Book Cover
Elana Zaiman
Llewellyn Publications
Softcover $16.99 (240pp)
978-0-7387-5288-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In Jewish tradition, ethical wills are letters that impart important principles and teachings. Elana Zaiman expands on that concept, turning ethical wills into a means of sharing what is important with anyone in a person’s life, in The Forever Letter.

“Forever letters” aren’t just for one’s children here; they can be written to anyone, in order to share stories, convey wisdom and values, and express things that might be easier to say on paper. They are the documents of one’s lifetime, able to be cherished and reread after their authors have died.

The book offers clear, loving advice and encouragement for writing forever letters, down to what information one should include. Many examples are shared to illustrate concepts such as meeting the recipient where they are and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes.

Zaiman wisely anticipates many concerns people might have about writing their forever letters, such as feeling that they aren’t writers, or wishing to wait until they or their children are older.

She offers thoughtful guidelines for the sorts of values that might be explored in a letter, how to increase the chances of being heard in the spirit with which a letter was written, and pitfalls to avoid. Tips on the writing process and writing prompts will help those who don’t know what to write about or how to focus their thinking.

This lovely book is a thoughtful aid to those who might wish to leave a written legacy for loved ones and provides helpful advice for how to do just that.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Aging with Wisdom

Reflections, Stories and Teachings

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Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle
Larry Rosenberg, contributor
Monkfish
Softcover $16.95 (224pp)
978-1-939681-71-3
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Navigating the changes that come with age and the inevitability of death can be difficult, especially in cultures where the wisdom of elders is not typically revered. As a counter, Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle offers comforting and empowering reflections, readings, and lessons on growing older in her book, Aging with Wisdom.

Hoblitzelle’s previous book explored her and her husband’s experiences after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, through to his death six years later. This book widens those explorations of aging and death to include many other examples of people who chose to live their later years on their own terms.

Hoblitzelle’s is a heartfelt, heartening guide to the later years. It shares approaches for opening up to the aging process, for finding beauty and grace in the inevitable decline and losses of old age, and for seeking gratitude, humor, and joy in the final stages of life.

The time of life after children have grown up and left their childhood home is referred to in Hindu philosophy as the “forest monk” stage—when contemplation and a potentially more spiritual life can come forth after the busyness of career and child-rearing have calmed. This period should not just be seen in terms of loss, Hoblitzelle argues, but as a time when personal development can come to the forefront.

As much as it is about living well, the book is also about dying well. It includes stories about people who have served as the author’s guides in her understanding of what it means to age with wisdom. It explores a variety of spiritual traditions and includes loving profiles of people who have served as wayshowers to the author as she navigates the challenges and opportunities of growing older.

These stories should help readers to understand what’s happening in the final transitions of life and guide them to having a more meaningful and graceful experience of this time, whether with aging parents or family members or in their own lives.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Into the Mystic

The Visionary and Ecstatic Roots of 1960s Rock and Roll

Book Cover
Christopher Hill
Park Street Press
Softcover $16.95 (304pp)
978-1-62055-642-9
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Christopher Hill links the ecstatic, trippy, profound music of the great performers of the 1960s to the mystical traditions of gospel, folklore, and esoteric religious groups, in Into the Mystic, which goes beyond love songs and far-out beats.

This is an incredibly detailed look at the unique music of the 1960s, weaving in the stories of musicians like Michael Brown. Brown, of the Left Banke, channeled Dante in “Walk Away Renee,” with its story of unrequited, irredeemable love that nonetheless provided a deep source of inspiration.

Hill details how the Beatles and the Grateful Dead produced albums that mirrored the experiences of drug trips, and how the Rolling Stones were influenced by American gospel and the blues to produce technically brilliant music with spiritual roots.

The book will make lovers of ‘60s rock want to run to their record players to hear these albums again with fresh ears. Those who aren’t as well versed in the era will be tempted to make playlists of the mentioned tracks to see if they can grasp the stories’ threads.

Multiple, comprehensive explorations of albums and songs help as Hill makes his argument: the music of the 1960s was inextricably tied to storytelling traditions, spiritual journeying, and the kind of exploration that has always been essential to human communities.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Unfuck Your Brain

Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers

Book Cover
Faith Harper
Microcosm Publishing
Softcover $14.95 (192pp)
978-1-62106-304-9
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Unfuck Your Brain does a great job of filtering its readers out with its salty title. If language offends, pass this book by—but those who skip it will also miss amazing and thoughtful insights.

Harper, a licensed professional counselor with a PhD in counselor education and supervision, has particular experience working with people who have experienced trauma. The book is full of useful suggestions for dealing with the mind-messes commonly caused by trauma and other mishaps in the past.

“A trauma can be an accident, an injury, a serious illness, a loss…or any kind of life event that kicks your ass,” she writes, noting that what causes one person to be unable to cope might be fine for someone else. “We don’t know why some things are worse than others for some people.”

Harper’s discussion of how the brain works to process memories is invaluable for how it traces the brain’s attempts to ensure safety, which can actually lead to inappropriate freakouts. This is essential reading for those who want to understand why their minds so often seem uncontrollable, and it offers plenty of realistic tips for supporting healing.

The book abounds with practical advice—from ways to ground and show self-compassion to writing, going outside, and changing habits—that can help audiences manage their own issues, as well as for getting professional help when needed. Dr. Faith is a hoot with heart, and her guide is full of workable, professional advice, as well as it is replete with sarcasm, good humor, and grace.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

The Secret Life of Your Microbiome

Why Nature and Biodiversity are Essential to Health and Happiness

Book Cover
Susan L. Prescott
Alan C. Logan
New Society Publishers
Softcover $24.99 (336pp)
978-0-86571-851-7
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In their book The Secret Life of Your Microbiome, Susan L. Prescott and Alan C. Logan provide an extremely detailed overview of what the microbiome is, both inside and outside the body, and its importance to health.

They argue that a combination of contact with nature, healthy and diverse nutrition, and a well-supported, flourishing microbiome leads to good health, and that a lack of these conditions can be linked to a host of diseases, from obesity to fibromyalgia to depression.

The key to treating such disorders, they say, is in resetting the body’s microbiome, which can be done through time spent in nature, the consumption of a variety of whole foods and fermented products, and use of probiotics and supplements to encourage internal microbiome diversity.

While this general notion—that lives would improve through the encouragement of healthy internal microbiomes—is championed, there isn’t much given in the way of specific guidance or real-life suggestions for general audiences.

Arguments are well-thought-out and presented with plenty of scientific detail. Still, the book’s humor, tendency to rail against the concept of STEM, and aspersions cast toward bowtie-wearing pop-science experts undermine its overall delivery.

The authors suggest that no one really knows what an ideal microbiome looks like, or even how to achieve it. It is perhaps refreshing, then, that their book doesn’t make bold promises to cure ailments, though more recommendations are needed.

SARAH WHITE (August 27, 2017)

Sarah White

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